Though the jury's still out on whether tax reform will truly end up helping the average American, some workers are finally starting to see its impact in the form of higher paychecks. Yet the majority of payees don't think tax reform is having a positive impact. In a recent Bankrate survey, only 41% of employees noticed a difference in their paychecks, and only 24% attributed that increase to the new tax code. Meanwhile, 42% didn't observe a notable change in their take-home pay at all.
The IRS estimates that since releasing its new withholding tables in January, 90% of workers would see their paychecks go up. Furthermore, the Tax Policy Center projects that while the country's highest earners will reap the bulk of the benefits of tax reform, the average taxpayer's IRS bill will go down by about $1,600 in 2018.
So why aren't workers more open-minded about the new tax code? For one thing, many are used to getting burned by the system. Furthermore, confusion about this year's tax changes has caused many to adopt a negative view, even among those who stand to benefit.
Still, one thing's for sure: A large number of working Americans are bound to get more money in their paychecks this year. And that's something all of us should be using to our advantage.
Use that extra money wisely
If you're getting extra money in your paychecks, you may be inclined to spend it all. But chances are, there's a better use for that additional money than blowing it on take-out meals and clothing.
Most Americans are troublingly behind on emergency savings. An estimated 57% of U.S. adults have less than $1,000 in the bank, while 39% have no savings at all. If you fall into either category, any extra money you eke out of your paychecks should go directly into your emergency fund, since -- ideally -- it should contain a minimum of three months' worth of living expenses.
If you're OK on emergency savings but carry credit card debt, your next best bet is to use your newfound cash to chip away at that balance. That's because for each day you fail to pay it off, you'll accrue interest that only adds to that number.
Finally, if you have a decent emergency fund and no debt (other than perhaps a mortgage, which is the good kind of debt to have), you can always stick your extra cash into a retirement account. If your employer offers a 401(k), sign up to have the difference go directly in there. If you're funding an IRA on your own, figure out how much extra you're getting and be sure to set that amount aside. As is the case with emergency savings, most Americans are behind on building their nest eggs, so boosting your savings rate ever so slightly will make a big difference in the long run.
Don't be too quick to spend that money
While getting more money in your paycheck is certainly something to be happy about, you may want to think twice before spending that extra cash. Even if your employer uses the IRS's new tables correctly, withholding taxes is always a bit of a crapshoot. That's because there are other factors outside of your paycheck, such as investment or interest income, that might cause you to inadvertently underpay your taxes, and if that happens, you could end up owing the IRS when you sit down to prepare your return in 2019. Therefore, it's smart to set at least some of that extra cash aside to allow for the possibility of owing money on your taxes, especially with this being the first year in which the new rates and rules apply.
If your paycheck has been larger in recent weeks than it was at the beginning of the year, you can probably thank the new tax laws for it -- even if you're not a fan of the changes. Just be sure to use that extra money responsibly so you don't come to regret it later on.